The ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ story and the play ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ are works of fiction by Tennessee Williams. They are primarily works that focus on the human desires that are in each individual and can only be fulfilled by death. ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ has its conception from the ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ with the main characters Sebastian being a more sophisticated concept of Anthony. While the two may be works of fiction, they also intend to put into question the human sexuality versus the structure of sexual category and sex in the society. Can society really control the human sexuality or do people just contend with compromising into marriage rather than fulfilling their sexual desires. Can society eliminate homosexuality from their midst even in a society that is homophobic (Bloom, pg 28, para 2)? This essay will focus on the similarities and differences between the play ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ and ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ story.
In both works of art by Williams, the ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ story and the play ‘Suddenly Last Summer’, the writer deals with the result of wicked sexual desires which are not in the defined margins of sexuality by the society. Williams shows that no man is firm and that society should stop trying to control human sexuality, because the result is always catastrophic.
In the ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’, desire is the power that sub-consciously compels one into performing such wicked sexual acts as homosexuality to attain sexual release acts yet one has no control to define it. The outcome is conceding oneself to that desire and to evade liability and shame, one chooses to die.
The main character in Suddenly Last Summer, ‘Sebastian’ dies before the action commences. This is opposed to the main character Anthony in the ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ story. The dramas revolve around the human desire. In the play ‘Suddenly Last Summer’, Sebastian is shown to have homosexual desires when thinking of populace as ‘items of food on the menu’. By this reference, Sebastian’s desires are equated to hunger which he desires to fulfill. The desire of Anthony on the other hand in ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ is to be swallowed as described in page 105. Williams strives to show that the only true fulfillment of desire is by death. Sebastian just like Anthony is killed though his death is not as a result of his obstinate sexual desires but as a result of estrangement by the society and the people close to him. This is also true for the masseur and Anthony who isolate themselves when they are discovered by the manager in the basement. The characters of Anthony and Sebastian are not labeled by who they are but by the desires that ultimately devour them depicted in literal writing as cannibalism (Bloom, pg 29, Para2).
In the story of ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ the two women, Catherine and violet, are shown as the true channels of revolutionizing the way that society has defined sex and sexual category structures. Sebastian is just the say-so of these two women, Catherine his cousin and his mother Violet. He is what the two says he is, which is contrary to the way the society describes masculinity and femininity. They show that the society can make a choice to reveal the truth and then deal with it, despite there is the danger of splitting up the society, or make up their minds to conceal the truth to society and paint a picture which is acceptable to all on matters of sexuality which they would have the power to control. Catherine saves herself from lobotomy by telling the truth, but this also causes isolation as, Violet and Catherine both departs individually from the stage’(Bloom, pg 29, Para 3).
Despite the fact that Violet wanted to keep things according to the norms of the society, that is, control the desires of Sebastian, she could not do so for long and this leads to Sebastian running away to the street where he is devoured by the street urchins. Where Sebastian knew his desires from the beginning when he attempted to know God, Anthony in the ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ did not. He stabled upon realization his desires when he visited the massage parlor where he met the masseur. The desire of the ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ which was to make the white people feel pain under his palm is fulfilled, when he is paid to give Anthony sexual release and penitence through pain, death and cannibalism. For Anthony and the masseur, the paid for violent actions enabled them to perform their deepest desires and this was act of love. This goes to show that according to William, money not love is an aspect of sexual relations (Bloom, page 30, Para 4).
Serenity is achieved by completion of such violent communion in consumption of his body by the masseur. This, according to William, is the completion of desire by completion of the communion. This shows that death is not a desire many people have, but that fulfillment of desire is death, such as the one that connected the masseur and Anthony and not a romantic relationship. William portrays that sex and penance mostly by death will always be connected. That is why love and marriage, straight or gay is an edgy concession whose result is always isolation (Bloom, pg 31, Para 1).
Anthony is filled with guilt due to his actions of desire and he therefore seeks for secrecy for the things that he does. The whole set up of the parlor and baths in the basement of a hotel and how they got in through a door at the back and the street where the masseur takes him after he is fired depicts the fact that Anthony does not want to be discovered. On the other hand, Sebastian’s life is super faultless as he is helped by his mother to maintain that facade. Things, however, get exposed when Catherine starts to say what she witnessed and her perfect world collapses with the death of Sebastian (Bloom, page 32, Para2). This poses the question; can society really deny the fact that human sexuality is not as is defined in the societal norms? Or do the society and the church, such as the one opposite the masseur’s house continue to sweep the truth under the rags.
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In ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’, the end is the removal of homosexuality from the society when the masseur devours the flesh of Anthony and throws his bones in to the lake. In ‘Suddenly Last Summer’, the death of Sebastian does not signify the end of homosexuality. Rather the narrative given to Dr. Cukwicz by Catherine seems to fuel the era of homosexuality in the doctor. This is because the Dr. Cukwicz is able to resist the charms of Violet into helping her cover up the grotesque life and death of her son. The virtue of the doctor being handsome and wearing a white suit just like the one that Sebastian wore shows that the end does not come with the death of Sebastian (Bloom, pg. 34, Para 2).
Like Sebastian used to see God in a brutal sequence of the sea turtles being consumed by the black birds. Anthony, however, yields to the cycle of vengeance which demands that the disintegration born of desire has to be eliminated. Sebastian like Anthony is not a stable personality, but a disjointed outcome of his desires. In the case of Anthony, he had to die because of his wicked desires, so as the death to act as compensation for his sins, but in the case of Sebastian he was consumed by his desire which was to devour others and so he was consumed by the street rogues.
Despite his desires, he remains in the picture of white silk suit which is used to show that his vision lives on. Sebastian did not die to bring to an end his vision, but to keep his vision going in the minds of others like Dr. Cukwicz and Catherine. Anthony’s death, on the other hand, was to bring to an end the desire that caused him to transgress which he had a hand in chose. The death is the end of it all as the masseur is seen thinking ‘it is all over now’, after throwing Anthony’s bones into the lake. Anthony had a choice in the way he was to receive penance, by choosing cannibalism. At this point he communicated with the masseur and told him to eat him up when he is dead. In conclusion, it can be argued that the two works by William are mostly similar, where he uses cannibalism as an allegory to show the celestial desire of a world which is depicted by pandemonium and aggression and depends on total destruction of the subject for its own ends.
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